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A hint of lemon and the Nilgiris

Last month, I took my first trip out oftown in two years. We made our way up to the hills of Kodaikanal, in the West-ern Ghats, where wildly attractive shola forests are a sight for pandemic-weary eyes. Ifs therm hill in these parts where no tea is cultivated, so there are no green carpets of neatly lined tea bushes. (I asked long-time Kodai resident and author Lathika George about this. Among other reasons, it turns out that the soil in these hills holds too much moisture, which is not suited for tea growing. These hills are coffee territory.)

Nevertheless, it's tea that announces the proximity of the hills here too. Every tea stall by the road offers the lemon tea ubiquitous to Indian hill stations, particularly helpful for those prone to a queasy stomach going up or down (mostly coming down).

Beginning with that cup of hot, sweet lemon tea at Batla-gundu,otir last pit stop before the ascent, my week in Koclailta-nal was punctuated by cups of lemon tea. Asa town that caters to a heavy tourist clientele, there's a lot of variety on offer when it comes to food. But lemon tea and its variations—hon-ey-lemon tea, ginger- lemon tea and the ultimate indulgence of honey-lemon-ginger tea—area fixture on ever), menu. If s the sort of concoction that makes you feel like you have a hot towel mopping your insides.

Most of the tea—generally tea dust, to be precise—sold here seems to be from the Nilgiris. Proudly dust tea, evident from the packets available for tourists to take back.

It got me thinking about dust tea, which tends to invite deri-sion from connoisseurs, no thanks to its unfortunate name. No tea manufacturer sets out to produce tea dustbut it's produced while manufacturingwhole leaf, broken leaf, or CTC. These are the smaller, finer particles that are left behind, swept together and sorted as fannings and dust, the latter beingthe finest particles.

Tea dust is an important category in bulk tea sales. In fact, the south Indian market is known to have a preference for it It's what the small tea sellers buy and make because it tends to infuse quickly and bringa strong flavour to the cup. It's far too strong to be drunk plain and needs the accoutrements of milk and sugar.

Fannings and dust also make their way into tea bags. What they lack in flavour, they make u p for in strength and short infusing time; dust from whole leaf tea grades is, in fact, quite flavourful and sought after for blends. I found a packet oftea dust that had been relegated to the far corner of my kitchen shelf. I had bought it when repair work was on at home and the workmen had expressed undisguised houor at the orthodox milk tea I had offered them. I fell in line and bought a packet of tea dust, the only way to make the strong milky sweet tea they were used to. Now trying to recre-ate that cup of hill station tea on a nippy Bengaluru morning, I reached for the packet. Sippingthepiping hot ginger-lemon tea with honey. I do think that it's tea dust that makes all the difference.

Tea Nanny is afortnightly series steeped in the world of tea.AravindaAnanthtuuman isa Bengaluru-basedteablogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

15 Nov, 2021

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